Jack Dorsey, co-founder and now former CEO of Twitter has stepped down from his position and away from Twitter completely. Many felt he was staying on for too long and damaging the business, but he has now left seemingly on his own terms. Has the tech personality bubble finally burst?
Fittingly, Jack Dorsey’s resignation was announced to the world via a Tweet, the very thing that made him famous. In a screenshot of an email that he sent to employees, Dorsey stated that his reason for leaving was that the model of a founder-led business had run its course: “There’s a lot of talk about the importance of a company being founder-led. Ultimately I believe that’s severely limiting and a single point of failure”
He further asserted that this was the reason he was stepping away altogether, rather than just staying on the board or becoming chair, saying that he believes “it’s critical a company can stand free of its founder’s influence or direction.”
Dorsey’s statement also took aim at other founders who have outstayed their usefulness, saying: “There aren’t many companies that get to this level. And there aren’t many founders that choose their company over their own ego. I know we’ll prove this was the right move.”
Whether this is Dorsey’s genuine reason for resigning or not, he has a point.
Companies do suffer when the founder refuses to relinquish control, which often happens because they can’t see that they are getting in their own way or the way of the company. The innovation, acting on instinct, and risk-taking required for a successful start-up isn’t necessarily what’s required for a company’s sustained growth, especially when it has grown as big as Twitter or Facebook.
An article in Inc. claims that ‘Facebook’s biggest problem isn’t divisive content, hate speech, or misinformation. Facebook’s biggest problem is Mark Zuckerberg”, and many would agree. Zuckerberg retains a huge amount of creative control over Facebook, and sometimes what is required is for the founder to step aside and let someone else lead. This is what Dorsey is claiming to have done, but the pressure for him to leave has been mounting for some time.
Activist shareholders had been pushing for Dorsey to be replaced for a while. One of the reasons given for this is that Dorsey was, at the time, CEO of both Twitter and Square, his financial services and digital payment platform, with the latter being the more profitable entity and the one that was taking up most of his time.
These shareholders believed that Dorsey’s split loyalties were preventing Twitter from growing and allowing it to lag behind its competitors, especially in terms of share price and releasing new features. This is perhaps understandable. In the past year, Twitter’s major releases were Fleets and Spaces. Fleets was a short-lived copy of Instagram stories and the success of Spaces, Twitter’s answer to Clubhouse, is yet to be determined.
Twitter has also continually struggled to deal with the spread of fake news, misinformation, bots and trolls across its platform, although it did ban Donald Trump.
Despite resigning from Twitter and expressing his dislike for founders staying on too long, Dorsey remains CEO of Square. This could be because he believes he still has something to give in this position, or it could be that he is simply following the money. While Square doesn’t have Twitter’s level of fame or clout, it is worth almost three times Twitter’s current value.
Dorsey has expressed his support for Bitcoin, even going so far as to say that it will become the world’s single currency and that it will “unite a deeply divided country”. Before he left Twitter, Dorsey had been trying to get Twitter into the cryptocurrency and NFT game and the new CEO is expected to continue his work. Ticketed Spaces may also provide an avenue to monetize the platform.
Richard Seymour, writing in The Guardian, believes that “Twitter, like the wider social industry of which it is a part, may be experiencing the limits of its growth”, and this may be part of the reason, in addition to the money, for Dorsey making the switch to cryptocurrency. If there’s nothing new to be done with social media, perhaps he can be an innovator in crypto instead, although this suggests an ego he was trying to renounce with his resignation statement.
Cryptocurrency certainly seems to be a popular choice among tech personalities; Elon Musk has been influencing the stock value of various currencies with his tweets, and Facebook’s rebranded parent company Meta have been trying and failing to launch a cryptocurrency of their own.
Dorsey signed off his resignation letter with his wish ‘for Twitter Inc to be the most transparent company in the world’. However, that is no longer his problem and he hasn’t started a revolution by making his email a matter of public record. He’s only acknowledged what other people were already saying about founders getting in the way of their own company.
One thing that seems apparent from Twitter’s own official statements surrounding both the launch of Twitter Spaces and the failure of Twitter Fleets is that they haven’t yet managed to achieve what they wanted to. The platform has become something different to what they had imagined.
The cultural impact of Twitter is hard to dispute, even if the platform is not as popular as it once was, but Twitter’s desire for users to ‘join the conversation’ by allowing them to share fleeting thoughts with the world hasn’t exactly brought people closer together. There are more ways to communicate than ever in the digital world, but each interaction is arguably becoming a little hollower.
Generation Z are turning away from Facebook and Twitter in favour of platforms like TikTok, maybe just because they prefer short video content, but perhaps in part because they want to dominate a communication platform of their own, and don’t want to inherit the platforms of the previous generation, and all the problems that come with them.
However, the changes at Twitter with Dorsey’s resignation could present an opportunity for the platform to become what it should be. Most people rely on Twitter for instant access to breaking news stories, for example, so this is something they could further pursue while trying to get around the “echo chambers” the platform has become notorious for.
They could create a curated but unbiased news feed with trending stories from a range of publishers. The current news feed still has trending hashtags that lead people to their potential “echo chambers” and argumentative rabbit holes, but a more sophisticated news feed linking out to news articles and threads by news publishers could be a possible solution.
This could even present an opportunity for monetisation if news publishers were willing to pay for the potential to drive traffic to their sites from Twitter. This is just one idea of how Twitter could evolve away from its more negative existence, but it will be interesting to see how the platform changes without Dorsey.
Businesses and founders both need to grow, but this does not always happen in tandem. What’s best for one may not still be the best for the other, especially after 10+ years. Dorsey’s resignation could be an opportunity for the platform to grow without him, and maybe even become something closer resembling what he imagined it would be.